Sunday, May 29, 2011

Inspired by the Bard


PLUS! The hat that had all tongues wagging!

Jean says: On Thursday afternoon, May 19th, I flew in to LaGuardia from New Orleans, dropped my luggage at my apartment, grabbed a hat, reapplied my lipsick, and ran out the door. I had to be across and uptown at 38 W. 86th Street (at the The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture) to meet Valerie and get seated before 6 PM for a wonderful program entitled: "Working Fabric: Innovation in Design at Knoll Textiles". It was the first of a series of three "Conversations" with designers (part of a larger series of 13 events including conversations, a walking tour, a concert, three lectures and two forums) related to Bard's exhibition Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010, which runs from May 18 through July 31, 2011. In the May 19th Conversation, moderated by Brooke Hodge, with menswear designer Jhane Barnes and Knoll Creative Director Dorothy Cosonas sharing their collaborative experiences with Knoll, which have involved the industry's most technologically advanced production methods and materials. (See, kiddies, we're not totally shallow and self-absorbed. We are true seekers of knowledge and wisdom -- we just like to dress for the occasion.) I have always loved Knoll's modernist tradition but my sentimental favorite timeframe was the 1980s when two of my most talented and creative friends, Lee Stout and Kim Dennis, worked for Knoll. I loved the layout and the feel of the Soho showroom.

(Note: At a certain point in time, Knoll Textiles morphed into KnollTextiles, so you will see two different spellings, depending on the era of the particular item under discussion.)

The first comprehensive exhibition devoted to a leader and producer of modern textile design, Knoll Textiles encompasses all four floors of the gallery, organized around four themes. Inescapably obvious throughout the show are the leadership of Florence Knoll and the creativity of the design directors in the formation, shaping and dissemination of the Knoll brand and the promotion and marketing of its textiles. From the company's founding in the late 1930s, Knoll has had a significant impact not only on modern postwar interior design but also on furniture and textile production.

When she retired in 1965, Florence Knoll had been design director and led the Knoll Planning Unit and Knoll Textiles. On Sunday morning, Valerie and I returned to the scene of the crime to view the exhibit. Although we had the place to ourselves, we were prohibited from taking photos or from climbing onto the furniture or rubbing our grimy mitts on the gorgeous textiles. (Imagine!) Valerie has downloaded some photos from Bard's website to give you a flavor of the exhibition. Note: Our blog has a temporary redistribution of labor: Since my camera is on the fritz and had to be returned to the Pentax mothership for neurosurgery, Valerie has had to not only shoot most of the photos but also edit and upload them. Consequently, your truly is taking up the slack by handling the yeoman's (or should I say: "Yo, woman's"?) share of the writing. (Valerie says: I could have made a new camera by hand in the amount of time it's taking the fix-it wizards to return Jean's Pentax. One supposes their repair experts have been downsized to maximize shareholder return. [Otherwise known as keeping one's priorities straight.])

Dorothy Cosonas' Knoll Luxe collections include amazing pieces by the fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy for Rodarte and Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez for Proenza Schouler:

Above is a Knoll Luxe swatch of Willow upholstery fabric from Proenza Schouler's Mepal collection.

Above is the Landscape swatch from Auden, Rodarte's Knoll Luxe drapery fabric. The shimmer, and very little of the subtle color shift, is visible in the photo. In person it's a knockout. Kate and Laura named each section of their collection after poets. Unfortunately, we don't have a photo of Dorothy Cosonas' amazingly transparent reinterpretation of Ross Littell's 1958 colorway Mira ("Red/Orange/Persimmon") which hangs from the fourth floor stairway of Bard's Main Gallery and continues down to the first floor, visually connecting the designs of the past to the present.

This iconic Small Diamond chair by Harry Bertoia, circa 1955, is covered in the gorgeously lush Prestini fabric by Antoinette Lackner Webster.

This circa 1966 wall hanging titled Spheres is by Ross Littell.

The catalog photograph of this Model 657W rocking chair circa 1945 by Ralph Rapson with cotton webbing by Marianne Strengell doesn't do it justice. While Valerie was dying to touch the textiles, especially the draperies and wall hangings, I was dying to sit on all the furniture. This rocking chair was irresistible. I really wanted to take it for a spin.

Knoll Textiles sample kits circa 1967 were designed by Lella and Massimo Vignelli.

Knoll red upholstery fabric swatch.

Knoll Delta fabric swatch.

This is a detail from "Good Catch", a 1965 advertisement by Herbert Matter.

Here's a shot of Brooke Hodge seated between the two speakers. Rebecca Allen, Head of Education for Bard Graduate Center, was the evening's hostess, introducing Brooke, Dorothy and Jhane. The venue was terrific and the speakers were very approachable. That they served wine and light snacks didn't hurt. It was a great icebreaker. When I was speaking with Rebecca after the program, she mentioned the upcoming exhibition opening in mid-September: Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. You can bet we'll be there for that one! (Valerie says: one of the perks of traveling as a pair is that our chutzpah levels rise and fall independently. When Jean elbowed me to photograph the speakers, my chutzpah level was flagging, so I handed her the camera. Jean gamely rose to the challenge. Unfortunately, she accidentally put the first picture on ten second timer [with a beeping countdown], and the second on flash. This is one of those photos. Having brought unwanted attention to ourselves twice, we wordlessly resolved to take no more photos until afterwards.)

Jhane Barnes is director of Jhane Barnes Menswear, a men’s ready to-wear company. She also designs interiors, carpeting, eyewear, and office furniture for such companies as Google, PepsiCo, LensCrafters, Rolls-Royce, and SONY. Jhane wore a graphic Issey Miyake dress. The light patches are actually a kind of lime green, which sadly don't show up in the photo. (Our excuse is that the room was dark.) During her presentation, she called upon her husband, who happens to be Japanese, when she couldn't remember a specific fact about one of the many high tech menswear shirts she passed around the audience to see and feel.

Here's a better picture of Brooke Hodge, who moderated the evening's Conversation. Brooke is Director of Exhibitions and Publications at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. She wore a terrific black and white Marimekko dress. At the conclusion of the program when we were chatting, we complimented her on her dress -- and on the amazing Japanese coat she was holding: It had a textured persimmon yellow image which looked like a velvet wood cut of a tree on the exterior and a grey and white striped silk lining which she so kindly modeled for us!

When she was at MOCA, Brooke Hodge curated an exhibition we wish we’d seen, entitled Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture. For a look at this very interesting exhibition, shown 2006 – 2007 at the Museum for Contemporary Art in Los Angeles,
click here.

Standing between Valerie and Brooke is Dorothy Cosonas who has received numerous awards, including the Best of NeoCon Gold for many of her KnollTextiles upholstery collections, as well as her inaugural collection and her collection with Rodarte for Knoll Luxe.

Jean says: While researching this posting, I was reminded of how much my own office is an homage to Knoll. My desk is a lipstick red square PaperClip Table (1964 design by Massimo and Lella Vignelli), I sit on a Life Chair, and my typing table is a red Knoll boomerang table (KnollStudio Essentials Interaction Adjustable Table).

My Knoll PaperClip Table looks like this. It has a red top with black edging and black powder-coated metal legs.

The fact that I regularly put in in 12-hour days at the office is a testament to the comfort of my Knoll Life Chair. Mine is in deep charcoal. I spend so much time in that chair, I'm beginning to suspect I share a blood flow with it!

My laptop sits on a bright red boomerang-shaped Knoll Esentials Interaction Adjustable Table that looks like this, only with a bright red top and black metal base. I occasionally readjust the height of my table and my chair for variety.

Valerie says: The evening's conversation was timed so guests would be able to tour the exhibition afterward, but we spent so much time chatting that there was no time to see the show, and we had to come back. Following our tour through the exhibition on Sunday, we had a little sit-down (as women of a certain age are wont to do) at a place called Joe, as in java or coffee. On January 2 I caught flu, on January 15 I broke my wrist, and because legend has it that things come in threes, on May 17 (only a month after returning to work) I caught a cold. So while Jean had a latte, I worried that coffee would irritate my sore throat, and opted for rooibos ginger tea. I hope I'm done for the year now. Enough is enough already.

You can judge your age by your impression of this photo of a Joe employee bringing jugs of milk down by ladder from the overhead storage. Outside of this shot, there is a little crow's nest of an office you can get to by moving the ladder way to the left. When I was 21, if I'd seen this, I would have said to myself "Way cool. I want to work here!" Now that I'm old enough to be grandmother to a 21 year old (hey, Loretta Lynn was a grandmother at 29. Really. You can look it up!), when I saw the guy up on the ladder I thought "Gee, I hope he and the shop have insurance." This is a killjoy way of thinking. It does relate a bit to my own recent adventure with a broken bone, but it also relates to the current ridiculous health insurance system in the U.S.

Jean and I constantly have to keep track of whether we've taken sufficient photos of ourselves to commemorate our various escapades. Ideally, we want one of the two of us together, but for variety (and in case other photos turn out to feature closed eyes or blurred details) we also take solo pictures as back-up. Here I am through a glass, darkly, with cars reflected from the street. You can see that Joe is rated A by the Department of Health.

And here is Jean, also reflected. This picture reminded me a bit of Brassai's Secret Paris of the Thirties. Brassai took a number of mirror pictures, like the one below.

This one is particularly interesting because most mirror pictures, of course, show people and their own mirror images. This one is deftly angled to show three people below the mirror while the mirror reflects three completely different people, as if it had somehow made a mistake.

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Valerie is wearing: At the lecture - abalone shell earrings; Marilyn Monroe blue print dress by Chow Chow Mob; blue and white porcelain necklace from Blue & White (Tokyo); Land's End shoes. At the exhibition - rain hat by GRACE; raincoat by Jane Post; Jhane Barnes shirt with galloping horses print; pants by Tail; rain booties by Jeffrey Campbell.

Jean is wearing: Thursday: Black cotton turban by Amy Downs NYC (A Uno); vintage bakelite chain necklace, Romeo and Juliet tie-dyed shiburi shawl top, black linen harem pants from a Tibetan store in the East Village; Revue glasses. Sunday: Same turban and glasses plus: Derek Heart grey cotton shirt; Donna Karan long wool shawl sweater; black knit harem pants from street vendor on Houston Street; Trippen shoes (A Uno); Lux de Ville purse (Enz), and vintage bakelite rings.

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As Jean noted, we were not permitted to take photos of the textiles inside the Knoll exhibition, so we can't show you any of Jhane Barnes' weaves for Knoll. She spent more than a decade working with Knoll, but has designed menswear independently since 1981. Menswear can be pretty simple stuff, so textile weaves and color combinations are central to Jhane's apparel. Jean and I have both worn Jhane's shirts and sweaters for men, sticking in shoulder pads to take up the extra material. Just to amuse you, below are three examples of Jhane's menswear textiles.

Barnes has strong associations with Japan. Many of her textiles are woven there (some on a unique highly advanced computerized loom in Tokyo that no one is allowed to see for fear that it might be copied), and Jhane's husband, as previously noted, is also Japanese. This design, from a cotton knit sweater, shows variations of the futatsudomoe and mitsudomoe (double and triple commas), both old and respected Japanese crests. In antiquity, a large jade comma was said to be one of the original imperial regalia.

Here's the reverse side of the textile. The double-faced knit gives the material a variety of textures and dimensionality, and the interplay of the colors adds to the visual appeal.

For Neiman Marcus' 90th anniversary, Jhane was commissioned to do an exclusive commemorative shirt. To evoke Neiman's Texas roots, Barnes did a shirt with a pattern of galloping horses. Here is a single repeat of the face of the fabric.

Here is the reverse side of the same repeat. This is a double-faced weave, so the dark blue horse on the front becomes the white horse on the reverse, the white horse turns over to become the dark blue horse, and the pale blue horse on the front becomes the lapis blue horse on the reverse. The weaves are equal, so actually either side could be the face.

This wild and intricate color play would not be possible - or would be prohibitively expensive - if it weren't for computer design. Even so, programming computerized looms to do multicolored and multilayered weaves takes much more time than programming for one or two colors and a simple weave, so Barnes' products are in the high-end market, and made in small numbers.


London (CNN) -- A hat that created a stir when Britain's Princess Beatrice wore it to last month's royal wedding sold for more than $130,000 Sunday in an online auction to benefit charities for children.

The rose-colored hat spawned numerous blog posts, along with a Facebook page -- "Princess Beatrice's ridiculous Royal Wedding hat" -- with more than 143,000 "likes."

Beatrice donated the hat to be auctioned online on, with proceeds to benefit the charities. The listing describes the silk hat as a "unique sculptural celebratory headpiece."

"I've been amazed by the amount of attention the hat has attracted," Beatrice is quoted as saying in the auction listing. "It's a wonderful opportunity to raise as much money as possible for two fantastic charities. I hope whoever wins the auction has as much fun with the hat as I have."

Although some on the hat's Facebook page had predicted a last-minute bidding frenzy, the winning bid of 81,100.01 pounds (about $131,341) was placed hours before the end of the auction.

Beatrice, the daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, wore the hat to the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. It was designed by milliner Philip Treacy.

"A truly individual, fun but elegant wedding bow becomes the fascinator form," says the description in the auction listing. "This statement piece is worn on the front hairline secured by a clear wire headband that is easily disguised by the wearer's hair. This is a gravity-defying hat."

The listing also shows some of the tongue-in-cheek photos created and posted online, such as one with a cat crawling through the front of the hat. It also inspired a tribute song.

Proceeds from the auction benefit The Little Bee Initiative, a campaign set up by the princess to benefit UNICEF UK and Children in Crisis, according to the listing.

"I've been surprised by the overwhelming response to 'the hat,' " Treacy said in the auction listing. "... I'm delighted, flattered and touched by HRH Princess Beatrice's decision to donate the hat to charity. I hope that people all over the world will be generous and that this hat will benefit many."

The auction was managed by Auction For A Cause, an auction management service that specializes in "high-profile promotional auctions for charities, nonprofit organisations and brands," according to the listing's frequently asked questions.

Bidders were required to be preapproved, according to the listing, and at least 18 years old.

Reaction to the auction on the hat's Facebook page was positive.

"Gracefully done, Princess B," one poster wrote, "auctioning off the monstrosity for a good cause with dignity and humor."

"Absolutely fabulous!" another person wrote. "How cool is she for doing this?"
(article from; photo from the Sydney Morning Herald)

Jean says: Valerie's posting of Princess Beatrice's Philip Treacy hat is in perfect keeping with the Bard Graduate Center's upcoming exhibition Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones. Bard's Gallery Programs Spring 2011 edition features a photo of a hot pink feather hat by Philip Treacy from 1995. For the record, I loved Beatrice's hat!

For the record, says Valerie, I didn't. There are some hats which, when we find them in our wanderings, we might otherwise fight over if it weren't that we have already agreed in principle that we may borrow one another's hats. (We have each passed the other's stringent tests for the correct ways to handle hats). This is a hat that I could give up graciously, and never ask to borrow.


Click here for a look at an assortment of other Philip Treacy hats. And click here to see an assortment of Stephen Jones hats.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Night at the Theater

In Which Jean and Valerie See Stars

Last night, we did our own madcap riff on the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera*, substituting a Broadway theater for the opera house.

We had fourth row orchestra seats for Good People, a wonderfully engaging show with a top notch script by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, and a first class cast, including Estelle Parsons (our favorite), Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan. Estelle Parsons' take on Dottie was an amazing theater experience. Her character walked that fine line between understated and overdone: her frazzled, spiky bleached hair was fabulous (although Estelle herself said she was disappointed that she couldn't get it brassier), her costumes were a riot and her South Boston accent was spot on. We couldn't take our eyes off her in the bingo scenes, where she was dressed in amazing get-ups, including red lipstick you could probably have seen from the last row of the mezzanine and a hilarious pair of black patent go go boots. It was icing on the cake to go backstage and meet her in her dressing room. She was very sweet and gracious and up close she's a great looking dame. Valerie has a cold, and kept her distance, but Jean went eye to eye and cheek to cheek, so to speak. What a doll. We've been huge fans since her Academy Award winning performance as Blanche Barrow in Arthur Penn's 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. Younger readers of the blog will know her as Roseanne's mother in the long-running TV show Roseanne.

In the play, Dottie (Estelle) does her "crafts" and brings her home-made rabbits much like these to bingo, putting them on her table with a "Rabbits $5" sign. This is a very fuzzy enlargement of a rabbit that was on Estelle's dressing table, cropped out of the previous photo. You can just barely make out that the rabbit has a cigarette in its mouth, like Dottie, and is wearing a copy of her first costume in the show. (Compare it to the next photo of Estelle.) Jean noticed that Dottie was also wearing an ankle bracelet. Fabulous!

Here's a great picture of Estelle in costume as Dottie. The play was voted best of the year by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. The author, Estelle and actor Tate Donovan were interviewed on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show in March. To hear the interview, click here. If you’d like to see some video clips from the play click here. It's closing on May 29, so if you want to see it, act now!

Cast members' dressing rooms were thronged with wellwishers. Estelle was in the farthest dressing room, so on our way back to the stage door we shouted our appreciation to Frances McDormand (another Academy Award winner), also in her dressing room with the door open, and lastly had the good luck of running into leading man Tate Donovan. (Loved him in the FX series Damages with Glenn Close.) He was in a great mood and complimented us on our hats. When Jean asked him for a picture, he gladly obliged and got one of his friends to take a picture of the three of us.

Jean says: after the show, I talked Valerie into going to the mezzanine bar in the Paramount Hotel. [Valerie says: She twisted my good arm!] Built in 1928, the Paramount was bought by nightlife entrepreneur Ian Schrager in the late 1980s. With renovations by mad genius Phillippe Starck, it reopened in 1990 and was an instantly hot destination. Randy Gerber opened his Whisky Bar on the first floor. Although the hotel has changed hands again and is now owned by a Hard Rock Cafe joint venture, its bar overlooking the grand staircase and lobby is usually a great place to hang out and recap the night's events. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

While we were waiting for our order, I ran downstairs so Valerie could take my picture on the expansive white sofa in the lobby.

Valerie says: I wasn't sure why Jean was so insistent that we have cocktails here, but I trust her taste, and followed her unquestioningly. Check out the huge chandelier, and the Fred-and-Ginger-worthy sweeping staircase. My cocktail, which I foolishly had made to my specifications, did not turn out to be a stellar idea (prosecco with muddled blueberries - the blueberries did not have time to flavor the prosecco). Afterward, Jean was adamant about my seeing the restroom.

This must sound like a questionable practice, especially in light of recent stories in the news about congressmen who get into trouble in airport restrooms, but we actually check out ladies' rooms for their architectural and design features. Well! Talk about eye candy! It really was a very entertaining restroom, and we couldn't resist some tomfoolery.

Jean says: What can I say? I have no logical excuse for our actions, but we did have fun. [Valerie says: What's logic got to do, got to do with it? And I would like to point out that we would have done the very same thing had we not just had cocktails.]

How's this for a statement bathroom fixture? The rose you see is artificial, but Jean says there used to be real roses in these - um - boutonnieres designed by Phillippe Starck.

Valerie has the dramatic model pose thing down, but still has to do some work on the sophisticated, drop-dead cool model facial expression. The colored tiles behind the door juxtapose wonderfully with the black and white tiles in the outer room. And, we might add, they contrast Starckly (silly pun intended) with Valerie's hat.

Again, Jean pleads insanity and throws herself on the mercy of the court!

Jean demonstrates her own version of Leonardo DaVinci's famous drawing. (Again, click to enlarge.) A woman dressed all in black in front of black blinds is sort of the reverse of the polar bear in the snowstorm ...

Leonardo's original. See the resemblance?

Valerie says: None of my friends ever figured I'd wind up as the under-the-table type at a bar, but here I am. Actually, there was graffiti under the bar, and I felt driven to get small, so to speak, so I could pose in front of it.

Jean managed to finally get the only one of the four elevators with the graffiti interior. (We had to wait quite a while for it, but it was worth it.)

Valerie says: Here I am in a lobby chair. Jean spotted this outsized chair and encouraged me to behave badly in it. (Neither of us needs much encouragement.) But you can see I'm fundamentally a good girl - I never let the soles of either shoe touch the upholstery.

And so, at the end of our highjinks, off we went, into the night. You've heard the expression "all lit up like Times Square". Now you see where it comes from. At midnight, not only was it amazingly bright, it was also jammed with people taking advantage of the mild weather.

Jean is wearing a turban by Amy Downs New York (from A Uno); Tahari knit jacket; Brigitte harem pants; Pataugas ankle-strapped flats (from A Uno); and Lux De Ville patent handbag (from Enz).

Valerie is wearing her famous basket hat (google Basket Hat Video to see how it's made); red celluloid earrings; vintage Norma Kamali duster with the huge shoulder pads of the period; lacquered wood bud vase; vintage Bettina Riedell dress; plastic red ring from El Museo del Barrio; red sandals by Nicole.

BONUS PHOTO: Margaret Dumont and Kitty Carlisle wearing hats in a crowd scene from the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera.

* In the photo at the top, for you youngsters, left to right are Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Sig Ruman and Margaret Dumont.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What is a Friend? What is a Gift? (not trick questions)

Valerie says: Jean is away at her college reunion, so I'm bashing at the keyboard in solitary splendor. She took over a lot of the responsibility for the blog while I was one-armed, so now that "lots of tiny fingers snap to my command" [who remembers that song???] it's her turn to relax.

I've been back at work for almost exactly a month now, sez Valerie. Work actually seems to have played a part in my recovery. I've had some time to think about what it means to be an invalid, and now it's time that I thank a LOT of people for helping me through a difficult time. (Jean says: I'm back from my wild weekend of deja vu and will fill you all in on my 40th reunion at some later date. Today's posting is Valerie's baby. I do have to admit that I've had this lifelong "thing" about Barbie dolls, so Valerie's Barbie Mad Men scene threw me over the edge.)

First, I have to thank my invaluable deli men. I broke my wrist on January 15, in the midst of countless snowy, rainy, slippery, cold days. On days when I dared not go out, I could call the deli and they would send me a great toasted raisin bagel with cream cheese and a big fat sandwich, and fruit and soda if I asked for it. Once when I called they apologized and said they didn't have enough people available. 'Oh dear', I said. 'Valerie?', came the voice on the other end. 'Oh, I didn't realize it was you. Of course, we'll send someone right away.' It wasn't until then that I realized I was getting special treatment. I love these guys!

Next, of course, I have to thank Jean. Not only because she stayed with me for eight hours on a Saturday night entertaining me in the emergency room, but because she entertained me for the three months that followed. She sent me this card of a relaxing frog, mostly because if you look carefully you can see there are tiny pink mules (the shoes, not the animals) beside the chair. (Jean says: They're Barbie doll shoes, so how could I resist?)

Here's another card. I think this one was hand delivered, although hidden, for me to find later. Jean often gives me cards with two people on it. When we ask each other 'ok, which one is you?', we almost always choose the same person. Hmmmm. Interesting. (Jean says: click on the photo to enlarge, to read the wonderful Gilda Radner quote.)

Here's another one. They're SO from our period, and so hysterical. These did wonders to lift my spirits. (Jean says: I traveled to Georgia on business in January and found a great bookstore, with a little coffee shop and a wonderful selection of cards. I knew I'd found the good stuff when I laughed so hard, I snorted.)

I think this is the last one Jean brought over. Perhaps knowing how little food I ever have in my refrigerator, she put it in there, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn't see it till after she left, so I wouldn't have all my fun at one time. Of course, on the other hand, it could have been one of those senior moments when you put the card in the fridge and put the steak in the kitchen drawer...) I think we concluded the answer to the question on the card was 'buck', but only based on finding one instance of it a few weeks later. (Jean says: This was my favorite of the bunch. The inside of the card said something like: "I rely on you for things like this.")

Ann was another lifesaver. I mentioned to her once that navel oranges - among my favorite fruit - were a challenge to peel with the dominant arm in a cast. As luck would have it, Ann said she had received a duplicate shipment of navels to her home, and was giving some of them away. One day she brought over a huge sackful, all of which, god bless her, she had peeled for me. That sack must have lasted me a week (in the refrigerator), and would probably have lasted me longer had I not worried that they might be fragile without their skins. Ann said she would bring over another sackful. Wracked with guilt, I forbade her to peel them for me, until she explained that she actually wanted the skins. I can't remember if she was going to make orange zest or orange marmalade, but it was that explanation that convinced me it was okay to receive a gift of peeled oranges.

Ann also brought me a number of videos to watch, since, like so many of my friends, I have now seen every episode of Law & Order that was ever made. By now, I could also have seen every single episode of Two and a Half Men, The King of Queens, and Everybody Loves Raymond, among others, but even I have standards. I particularly loved seeing Little Britain (it took me forEVER to realize the title is wry commentary on the name Great Britain), and one night I stayed up till 4am compulsively watching all the episodes of Downton Abbey. Ann warned me that I would have to watch everything on my computer, and many days I was not able to do very much more than stick discs in my laptop, so I was VERY happy to have them.

I mentioned to Ann that I could not wear my brassieres because I could not hook them up or turn them around or lift the straps, so I was instead wearing a bustier, which I could put on like a waistcoat. The problem lay in the zipping up. Well, Ann is the daughter of an engineer, and now the wife of an engineer, so she designed this contrivance so I could zip up my bustier with my mouth. Yes, that's right, with my mouth. She dragged her husband Charles to a hardware store, and having previously purchased a PLASTIC BABY RATTLE, ingeniously put these few simple elements together. I wish I could tell you the name of the pincer gadget at the bottom, but you'll recognize it. Well, she put these together, with the baby rattle at the top, and then she had Charles test it by zipping up his own jacket with the baby rattle in his mouth IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HARDWARE STORE. Greater love hath no man than that he test his wife's baby rattle contrivance in front of unknown men in a macho hardware store. She assured me that it worked.

And I assure YOU that it works. It should be noted that Ann could easily have found a soft plastic rattle that did not feature a blue rabbit for me to bite the neck of in order to zip up my bustier, but Ann has a wicked sense of humor. I daresay she was in a bit of a rush, and didn't want to go to five stores in order to find, say, a soft plastic replica of a framed Kandinsky painting to suit my refined tastes. But I suspect that if she'd had both to choose from, she would have chosen the blue rabbit.

I don't at the moment have a picture of Ann, but here is a picture of Charles. It should be noted that Ann is highly allergic to cats, and came over to my apartment in spite of that to deliver the huge bag of delicious oranges. While she was suffering, Charles had a little tete-a-tete with my cat Clementine. Since Ann is allergic, Charles has to look forward to these few fleeting chance meetings with cats. Ann may have spent an hour at my place, and by the time she left she could already feel her allergies flaring up, so I felt - and feel - especially grateful for her kindness. And allergies notwithstanding, Ann nevertheless brought me a gajillion jars of baby food when I mentioned that Clementine was having trouble with her regular diet, but was handling baby food very well. The gajillion jars were a godsend, as baby food gets heavy quickly, so being one-handed I could only carry a few at a time, and sometimes my local stores didn't have the few kinds my very particular cat would eat.

My next door neighbor was also a doll. He left these magazines at my door to keep me occupied, along with the lovely note you see attached. It's my nature not to ask for help for as long as I can do things on my own, but it was SO reassuring to know that I could turn to Mac if necessary. Recently Mac had a fall of his own and sprained his ankle. It was a pleasure to be able to extend to him the same offer he extended to me.

One night Jean came over with a bowl of Hungarian goulash made by her friend George. George, who loves to cook, had heard I'd broken my wrist, and made the goulash for me. OMG! Just like mom's home cooking! It hit the spot! I very much admire Jean for her vegetarianism, and would love to follow in her footsteps. I do pretty well, but there are times when my cells cry out for animal protein. George's goulash would have been scrumptious any night, but that night it was sublime. I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but I think this photo I found on the internet makes a good substitute.

I sort of felt like Job when, two weeks after I had surgery, yet another light bulb went out in my house, this time in my bedroom. If one of three lights goes out, that leaves me with 66% of my usual light. Then, to add insult to injury, not two days later a second light bulb went out, so I had only 33% of my usual wattage. I had to photograph that. Who would believe it otherwise? Several of the men who work in my building scolded me for changing my own light bulb on the day I broke my wrist, and made me promise to call them the next time. So when both of these lights went out, I got one of the men to come and change all three for me. I didn't want someone to have to make a separate trip if the third light went out. These all got changed around February 20, and I'll be interested to see how long they all last. (Jean says: For those readers not of our generation, that's the Bibilical Job Valerie's talking about -- not that rich guy, Steve Jobs.)

For Valentine's Day, my friend Lynn, an art teacher in Texas, sent me a get well card disguised as a Valentine's Day card. These days, when the amount of personal mail we get has shrunk to probably one in fifty pieces at best, it's become a rare pleasure to receive something personal in the mail. It's like meeting someone with very old fashioned manners who treats you with the kind of courtesy you only thought existed in movies. I relish all my personal snail mail now!

I received this card from my friend Mizuka in Japan. Actually, it was a Christmas card, but somehow didn't arrive until after I'd broken my wrist. So the timing wasn't right for Christmas (even though it was postmarked November), but it was exactly right for someone feeling a bit downcast.

Shortly after that, I got an e mail from Mizuka, in which she sent a picture of her daughter, Aki. Aki had broken her arm on the playground. This in itself was not good news, but the fun lay in her arm covering. Mizuka bought a pair of leggings and cut one leg to fit on Aki's arm, just as I had done with my Marilyn Monroe leggings. So now I have started an international trend!

From Scotland, Helen sent me a card and, knowing my interest in fashion, a copy of the documentary McQueen and I. SO interesting! Great footage, and an in-depth look at the designer from several angles. I'll have to see it again. I'd be interested to see how much I was able to take in the first time. (Jean says: I'm dying to see "Alxander McQueen: Savage Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum and Bergdorf's tribute windows. Both are the subject of Bill Cunningham's On the Street column in today's Times, and featured dead center at the top of the page is a picture of our pal Tim John, looking fab. Tim is on a roll -- he appeared in our vintage clothing show posting last week and in our blog about the Easter parade.

When I first started physical therapy, the pain just about drove me up the wall. At least once I had to take a nap afterwards. Often I had to ice my arm, and my preferred place for doing the home exercises was in a hot bath, which I took nearly every night. After several weeks of physical therapy, I knew I was making progress when the 'pronation' exercise didn't hurt anymore. (Pronation is - more or less - the ability to rotate your wrist so that your thumb points downward while your palm is turned up. The exercise involves using the uninjured hand to turn the injured hand past its comfort point.) Did I need to do a more advanced exercise, I asked Marianne, my therapist. Marianne gently took my hand and turned it herself, and I nearly saw stars. We agreed that I just didn't have enough strength in my left hand to twist my right hand past the crucial point. Marianne told me she would think about this, and during my next visit she designed this wonderful device for me by heating, cutting and shaping a sheet of plastic. She used a paper towel to make the pattern with, to custom fit it to me. She was not too happy with the plastic bag she attached to it, saying she envisioned something more polished, but it would do in a pinch. I haven't seen any reason to change it. (Maybe a black plastic bag??) As you can see, I put river stones in the bag to weigh it down, but I could have put a bar bell (if I'd had one), and before I put the stones in there, I actually had two cans of Coke, which worked just as well. Marianne's coworkers congratulated her on her invention, and rightly so.

(Jean says: Been there, done that. Before I met Valerie, I too did a stint in PT. Just before midnight on my birthday on Thanksgiving night about four years ago, I managed to fall and break not only my right hand right below the thumb but also my left wrist. Talk about the double whammy! By coincidence, I not only saw one of the same hand specialists as Valerie, but he and I share the same birthday. Needless to say, I spent many moons in physical therapy and developed a new appreciation for the little things in life, like being able to turn a door knob.)

Back to Valerie: Here I am, modeling Mary Ann's pronation device.

I would like to take a moment to not thank the two people who told me that the way I broke my wrist was "stupid". It turns out the distal radius is the most commonly broken bone in the body - it's the one that suffers the initial impact when we put our arms out to break a fall. In my travels with my cast or splint, I met a number of people who, on seeing me, told me stories of their own broken wrists, assuring me that everything would work out. I never once heard a story that I thought constituted a "smart" way to break a wrist. In fact, it turned out that one of the people who told me I was stupid had also suffered a broken wrist. When I heard the details of the story, I stayed silent, but I was thinking "And you called ME stupid???" Then I basked mutely in schadenfreude, a word one seldom has the occasion to use in a blog.

This is not by any means an exhaustive list of all the people who helped me. There were also people who gave me their seats on the subway. There were blog readers who sent in their best wishes, and many other instances of kindness. I can't list them all, and I don't know the names of everyone who helped me. This was not the happiest three months of my life, but it taught me some great things about the nature of friendship, and shed some light on what constitutes a really wonderful gift.

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The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC featured an excellent expose on the nature of generic drugs. For example, some people who take prescription drugs do well on the brand name version, and badly on the generic version. This may have to do with allergies to the fillers. You may do well on one generic version, but you have no way of knowing if you will get that same generic version or a different one the next time you refill your prescription. Some generics are imported from foreign countries. The FDA has no control over the manufacture of foreign drugs, and doesn’t have the manpower to test all of them. Click on the link above if you’re interested in hearing more.

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Valerie says: And speaking of generic drugs, you can use generic aspirin to take antiperspirant stains out of clothes. It's true! I tried it this weekend on a black polyester Issey Miyake shirt and on the polyester/lycra bustier above. (I couldn't possibly have photographed it otherwise.) I found a number of suggestions on the internet, but somehow it was the recipe recommending gently rubbing two aspirin into an antiperspirant stain and letting it sit for two hours that rang true for me. I put the two tops in a light solution of Tide 2x Ultra, then dissolved two aspirin per arm pit, rubbed the chalky paste lightly all over the stains and let them soak. After I rinsed them and let them dry naturally, the stains were gone!!!! I admit with some embarrassment that the stains in the Miyake shirt were old. Nothing else had worked on them. I washed both of them by hand in my sink, so I don't know if this method will work in a washing machine, but I had to pass this tip along.